The well-known herb St John's wort is as effective
in treating depression as the widely-prescribed antidepressant
drug paroxetine, a team of German researchers has found,
according to a report in the British Medical Journal. "Our
results support the use of St John's wort as an alternative
to standard anti-depressants in moderate to severe
depression, especially as it is well tolerated," co-author
Meinhard Kieser said. The study comparing the herb
with paroxetine - also known as Seroxat - was undertaken
by Willmar Schwabe Pharmaceuticals of Karlsruhe and
the Institute for Medical Research Management and Biometrics
team concluded that the herb was just as effective,
if not better, than paroxetine, and patients experienced
fewer side- effects - usually stomach disorders with
both types of medication. The findings helped
to enhance the reputation of the herb - taken in
extract form to ensure accurate dosage - as an aid
in combating moderate to severe depression.
The two substances were given to the patients, aged 18 to 70, for
six weeks. At the end of the trial half of those taking St John's
wort - 61 out of 122 - found their depressive symptoms were in decline.
This was true of only a third of the patients on paroxetine - 43
out of 122. The paroxetine group suffered more side-effects,
with 269 adverse effects reported during the six-week trial.
Those on St John's wort reported 172 adverse effects.
But the team stressed that "as in any effective antidepressant, potential
interactions with other drugs deserve clinical attention".
The widespread use of drugs like Seroxat - selective serotonin reuptake
inhibitors, or SSRIs - has been causing concern in Britain for some
Up 3.5 million people in England and Wales alone have been prescribed
SSRIs for the treatment of depression and anxiety. Regulators called
last year for doctors to exercise greater caution in prescribing
these medications and urged the greater use of counseling rather
than medication in treating moderate depression.
Philip Cowen, a member of the British Association of Psychopharmacology,
said the study should not alter professional thinking, as a problem
with St John's wort was ensuring a regulation dose. And a spokeswoman
for Britain's Depression Alliance said: "There is evidence it can
be used to treat mild to moderate depression but the problem with
St John's wort is that it is not regulated. You just don't know what
you are getting. But she also said regulators should take a
close look at the study. DPA